N. Ireland Politics

Thousands attend 'headline act' at Bellahouston Park

Bellahouston Park
Image caption Crowds gather at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow ahead of Pope Benedict's arrival.

The Pope has celebrated mass in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. BBC Northern Ireland reporter Karen Atkinson was there as pilgrims gather in anticipation of the event.

Crowds, a huge outdoor stage, portaloos and merchandise stalls - no it's not the tail end of the music festival season - it's how Bellahouston Park in Glasgow is welcoming Pope Benedict to town.

It's not every day, in fact not every decade, that the head of the Catholic Church pays a visit and the thousands of people filing through the gates of the park know they are in for a special occasion.

The 83-year-old pontiff doesn't arrive in Glasgow until later on Thursday afternoon which gives people time to soak up the atmosphere, leaf through the official papal programme and browse for some mementos.

'Papal keyring'

Mugs and t-shirts emblazoned with Pope Bendict's image are just the start.

Pilgrims can have their own papal visit candle, keyring, wristband and even a set of commemorative binoculars for the short sighted or the dedicated follower of all things papal.

Image caption A pilgrim displays her papal headband.

Pope Benedict might be the main act in the line-up but the support acts aren't bad either.

Singing sensation and arguably Scotland's favourite daughter, Susan Boyle, entertained the crowds.

No doubt the Pope and 65,000 people will be an easier audience than Simon Cowell.

'Historic'

For those with more ecclesiastical tastes, a 700-strong choir made up of people from dioceses across Scotland set the tone ahead of Pope Benedict's arrival.

"This is probably the most the second most important day of my life, the most important day is when Pope John Paul II came to Scotland - it's very historic," said Eileen Campbell who has travelled from just outside Glasgow.

For others, this papal visit is their first.

"We've heard a lot about Pope Benedict, it should be really good today," said 16-year-old Ruth Trower from Glasgow.

Image caption Nuns fly the flag for Pope Benedict XVI at Bellahouston Park.

Her friend, Claire Campbell, who was carrying the distinctive yellow and white papal flag and is part of the choir, said she was looking forward to singing for the pontiff.

More than 100,000 people were expected to come to the open-air Mass but, after tickets failed to sell, capacity was reduced to 65,000.

But it's not about numbers for those who've travelled to Bellahouston Park, it's about devotion and support for the head of their faith.

So in the words of any festival promoter, the scene is set, the crowds are here - roll on the headline act.